* Affirms EPS growth targets for 2010-2012
* Aims to restore N. American drinks unit to growth in ‘10
* Aims to triple nutrition business to $30 bln by 2020
* Says to launch new Gatorade drinks
* Shares dip 0.4 pct (Adds details on food; updates share closing price)
By Martinne Geller
NEW YORK, March 22 (Reuters) - PepsiCo Inc (PEP.N) laid out its priorities for growth on Monday, including plans to invest heavily in emerging markets and healthier products in addition to folding in its North American bottling operations.
Chief Executive Indra Nooyi detailed her vision at the start of a two-day investor meeting at New York’s Yankee Stadium, where the maker of Pepsi-Cola, Frito-Lay snacks and Gatorade also affirmed its growth forecasts.
The company still expects earnings per share to rise by 11 to 13 percent this year, excluding the impact from currency. It is still targeting low double-digit growth for 2011 and 2012.
Nooyi said a key priority is to restore its North American beverage business to sustainable profitable growth starting in 2010, after “an incredibly difficult year for us” in 2009.
PepsiCo is integrating its two largest bottlers, which it acquired last month in a $7.8 billion bid for more control of its North American distribution system. Rival Coca-Cola Co (KO.N) plans to do a similar deal with its top bottler.
Regarding higher-growth emerging markets, such as China, India, Russia and Brazil, Nooyi said Pepsi plans to invest aggressively in markets where the company can achieve leadership or parity with rivals such as Coca-Cola, whose international business is broader than Pepsi‘s.
On a worldwide level, Nooyi said PepsiCo is targeting mid-single-digit revenue growth and mid-to-high single-digit operating profit growth in its beverage business.
Nooyi said Pepsi plans to build and expand its snack business, especially products that are healthier. PepsiCo expects its “nutrition business,” which includes Quaker Oats, Tropicana juice, nuts and seeds, to reach $30 billion in sales by 2020, up from about $10 billion now.
Executives said growth in its overall snack business would be fueled by expanding core brands, such as by offering whole-grain and blue corn Tostitos corn chips, as well as moving into adjacent categories like dips and salsas.
Nooyi also said PepsiCo would invest in “breakthrough” drinks, develop new zero-calorie beverages and step up innovation in the area of natural sweeteners.
At the meeting, Pepsi unveiled new Gatorade drinks, including some made with a low-calorie natural sweetener and a new salt product that can reduce sodium in potato chips without changing their taste.
Aside from its regular “G Series” Gatorade drink, Pepsi is launching “G Series Pro” targeted at professional athletes. It will be sold at General Nutrition Center (GNC) stores and other specialty sporting goods stores, said PepsiCo, which also unveiled a “G2 Natural” Gatorade drink for sale at Whole Foods Market Inc WFMI.O stores.
John Compton, head of PepsiCo’s Americas Foods business, said PepsiCo was working on bundling snacks and soft drinks that go well together, such as spicy Doritos and lime-flavored Pepsi, to help boost sales and streamline delivery.
Pepsi also unveiled targets to cut levels of salt, sugar and saturated fats in its top-selling products. [ID:nN21136811]
Looking ahead, Nooyi said there would be more room for tuck-in acquisitions and alliances, especially when it comes to cutting costs or expanding abroad.
She said a deal with Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI.BR) to combine back-office and information technology functions was just “the tip of the iceberg.” Future alliances could even involve sharing intelligence between “like-minded” consumer packaged goods makers, she said, since companies that make cosmetics, food and beverages often do similar research.
“What you eat is how you look,” Nooyi said.
When asked if PepsiCo planned to spin off the bottling operations in a few years, like many analysts believe Coke will do, Nooyi stressed that PepsiCo is “an operating company at the core,” since it already sells and distributes its snacks products. Coca-Cola, on the other had, sells beverage syrup to franchised bottlers.
“We are not in the business of holding assets temporarily,” Nooyi said. “But nobody should ever say never.”
PepsiCo shares closed down 0.4 percent at $66.31 on the New York Stock Exchange. (Additional reporting by Nivedita Bhattacharjee in Bangalore, editing by Michele Gershberg, Gerald E. McCormick, Matthew Lewis and Bernard Orr)